I loved having the opportunity to interview Meaghan Mountford of The Decorated Cookie. A writer at heart, Meaghan brings a decorative, artistic flair to all of her sweet creations! She has a successful (second) book out, “Sugarlicious,” and writes for other blogs like Edible Crafts and Celebrations. Read on to learn a little more about this multi-talented writer/artist/baker/mom, how she manages to find the balance, and what her favorite dessert really is.
Meaghan, you have two very impressive Master’s Degrees in literature and liberal arts. When did cookies come into the picture?
Cookies came into the picture by accident, before the degrees. I moved to Washington, D.C. in 199-, um, a long time ago, to attend Georgetown. After graduating, I couldn’t bear the thought of an office job, so I took more than a few find-myself jobs, most involving a cash register, coffee, or books. I also managed a paint-your-own-pottery store. One day, a woman walked in to the pottery store, spotted my display pieces, said she was opening a cookie decorating shop down the street, and asked if I like to work for her. “Sure,” I said, fully admitting I’d never held an icing bag. I planned to help her out through the holidays, just a few weeks. I stayed for almost ten years, only leaving in 2007 to have my daughter.
Aside from finding a second home at the store, I stayed so long for the flexibility. I was able to earn both of my Master’s Degrees while still at the store. (Including one degree in Philly, two and half hours away… that was a challenge.)
You write for several blogs in addition to your own website. Is writing really your first love?
Keen insight on your end, because the answer is “yes.” While earning my Master’s Degree, I focused first on fiction, then non-fiction and memoir to dig into my years of battling illness, and then I took a dramatic turn to children’s. I’m an academia nerd and came scarily close to a very different path. Had I had talent or desire for teaching at the college level, I’d have earned my Ph.D. in children’s literature.
But as most know, life takes its own, unexpected direction sometimes, albeit nudged by our everyday choices. After grad school, I found no immediate success publishing children’s. It can be a cruel world, books. So I thought I’d try a cookbook instead. I had spent a decade decorating cookies at a time before the craft had hit the current craze level. Little to no information on cookie decorating existed, in book or blog form. So I wrote a proposal for a cookie decorating book, found an agent, and published “Cookie Sensations” in 2007. Suddenly, I was all about cookies. Leaving the store to stay home with my daughter led to the blog, which then led to now.
You seem to have the best of both worlds being at home with your daughter and decorating sweets. Does your daughter ask to help you, or ask to taste everything?
Yes, sigh. She asks to help me every time I’m in the kitchen. She even has her own tools. And I let her help me, or I’d get much less done, though I can’t say she speeds the process. But she can now roll out dough, cut out cookies, and pipe with an icing bag. Luckily, she is the universe’s pickiest eater, even with sweets, so she doesn’t attack everything I make. Often, I’m just experimenting, so I’ll pull a wad of six-month old cookie dough from the fridge to play around with. Those, I don’t let her eat, for fear child services would knock on my door.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to stay at home, have time with my daughter, and decorate sweets, though I’m not always successful at the balance. I have a lot to squeeze into a day, so I often feel my daughter’s tug on my arm pulling me from the computer. When you pile the mom guilt onto the to-do list stress, what goes on behind the scenes isn’t always sugar and rainbows. But sometimes it is. (My daughter loves rainbows. And unicorns. Makes an ‘80s mom proud.)
In terms of sweets, you seem to have a little bit of everything on your website. What’s your all-time favorite to create? Your first love, if you will?
For the sake of loyalty, I’ll say cookies, though the ease and convenience of marshmallows make a close second. After I started blogging, I got the gig as Edible Crafts Editor over at CraftGossip.com. Spending much of my time mining the internet for crafty sweets ideas has pushed me beyond the cookie to marshmallows, cupcakes, cake pops, and other treats. But I always go back to cookies.
Congratulations on your second book, “Sugarlicious”! How are sales going, and what can readers expect from the book compared to what you offer on your website?
Thank you! “Sugarlicious“ parallels my own move from cookies to other sweets. When I first started dabbling with decorating marshmallows, cupcakes, cake pops, cakes, and candy, and I tried to figure out the world of fondant and sprinkles and edible markers and candy melts, it was all trial and error. Mostly error. There are bits and pieces of information on all of these things all over the web, but it was overwhelming and disjointed. Just as I was inspired to write the first book to fill the cookie decorating know-how void, “Sugarlicious” is the book I wanted five years ago. What I do on my blog is captured in “Sugarlicious,” only the book goes into much more ridiculous detail on decorating cookies, petit fours, candy, cake pops, cakes, and cupcakes. Every question is answered. There are a couple hundred illustrations to guide the reader, all painstakingly drawn with my mouse on my computer, and lots of photographs, all painstakingly shot by my photographer on my dining room table. I also include a long list of my favorite supplies and resources. Knowing what supplies to buy is crucial for decorating sweets. I want the reader to close the book feeling confident walking down the baking aisle of the craft store, inspired instead of confused.
Last winter your Melting Snowman Cookie went viral! It’s hard to maintain “credit where credit is due” in this internet industry of baker’s blogs and Pinterest. Do you ever feel like packing it up online and just opening a home-based business?
I can say with certainty I will not open a home-based business. I’ve tried that. I’m a terrible businesswoman. I’m way too nice and never charge enough. But I do feel like packing it up online on occasion, though not so much because of the cases of lost credit.
Blogging allows you to contribute content to an audience and to join a community. This community is overwhelmingly supportive, encouraging, appreciative, and kind. And in return, I read many other blogs for inspiration and ideas; it’s all a give and take, and it’s a joy to be part of this give and take. Fairly.
But there is a small, dark side, a side that doesn’t credit sources and ideas, either from malice or innocence, and some people simply steal. I’ve taken to watermarking photographs, but even so, I often see my work claimed by others. My cookies have been used to sell goods on Etsy and Facebook, other blogs have taken my full tutorials as their own… I stay on top of what I can, and my readers are the most astute detectives, but you become a bit numb to it. I can’t contain it all, and I would become (more of) a nervous wreck trying. So in the end, you have to just let go of a bit as an inevitable sacrifice of blogging and appreciate even more the many thoughtful and considerate bloggers out there fostering responsibility and integrity.
My melting snowman cookie, now almost four years old, is long gone, and while it still stings to see other bloggers get the accolades for the idea and to see the cookie in national magazines without my name, I had to let it go for the sake of sanity.
What does make me want to pack it in sometimes? The competition inherent in blogging. The internet is flooded with wonderful and creative sweets-makers. To stay at the top or anywhere near it, you need to work incessantly. You must be a part of everything, post and comment frequently, and invent new ideas at a lightning speed. It’s exhausting, and I find it difficult to maintain when the rest of life pulls on you. But it’s so hard to let it go! I think for me, a large part of enjoying what I’m doing is figuring out how to just stop competing, focus on the part I like — being creative and coming up with ideas — and then being okay with what notice I do get, even if it’s relatively small.
If you could choose just one dessert to indulge in this month, what would you eat?
Not cookies, not marshmallows, not cupcakes, not cake pops… It would be Ice Box Cake. I.Love.Icebox Cake. It’s a childhood favorite and so simple to make. I want to go make ice box cake now. And as I finish this question, I’m adding “heavy cream and chocolate wafers” to my grocery list.